Either in fact or legend the American West has been a fascination for not only Americans but people from almost every part of the world. From early dime novels, then cinema and radio and finally television the myths of the West have continued to entertain.
All of this, both the fact and the fiction, is on display at Autry's Museum of the American West. We visited the Museum recently to see the special exhibition entitled "Once Upon a Time in Italy--The Westerns of Sergio Leone". The so-called 'spaghetti westerns ' has had a lasting effect on how cinema treated the West but also movie making in general.
It seems impossible but the first of the three films, "A Fistful of Dollars" was produced 40 years ago. The other two are "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good , the Bad and the Ugly". They are all here at this exhibit, original costumes, set designs, movie posters in several languages, and even the unforgettable sound tracks of Ennio Morricone. Other Leone westerns like "Once Upon a Time in the West" are included with actual costumes used in the film.
The influence of Sergio Leone can still be seen in cinema today. His stark, larger than life sets, extreme close-ups and witty dialogue and the music all were hallmarks of his craft. The exhibit includes videos of commentaries made by other directors and producers on this influence.
But there is much more to see at this Museum located in Griffith Park. Also new is an exhibition entitled "Encounters: The Fur Trade" which shows the early encounters with the Native Americans and Europeans and how trade between the two developed.
Allow plenty of time for a visit to this Museum. Both the cinema myths of the West as well as the real life of the cowboy and frontiersman are shown. We spent a long time viewing the wonderful collection of paintings which show the West as viewed by 19th Century artists.
Yes there is the chronicle of the rise of the "singing cowboys" but also how the real cowboy lived and the tools of his trade which seldom included a "six-shooter" but often the "chuck wagon" included in the exhibit.
We spent some time admiring the full scale classic Western Saloon complete with a beautifully carved one hundred year old back bar and of course the piano in the corner. Also the gallery of the real 'western badmen' and a few of the 'good guys' as well.
The Autry Museum of Western Heritage is now a part of the Autry National Center following the 2003 merger of the Southwest Museum of the American Indian and the Women of the West Museum.
The Autry Western Heritage Museum is located at 47 Western Heritage Way in Griffith Park across from the Los Angeles Zoo. The Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information check the web at www.autrynationalcenter.org. The Sergio Leone exhibit will continue till January 22, 2006. The Fur Trade exhibition until October 2006.
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